Monthly Archives: August 2008

Detection temporarily out at Belfair signal


The in basket: Julie Burghardt of Allyn asks “What’s the reason for the change in the light cycle for the traffic light at Highway 3 and NE Clifton Lane in Belfair? 

“For the overnight cycle, the light used to stay green for Highway 3 traffic unless a car on Clifton needed the green. Beginning about a month ago, the light now stays green for Clifton unless traffic on Highway 3 triggers a green.  Needless to say, the light is being triggered a lot more often now than it used to be. 

“I’m hoping this is an inadvertent or temporary change, or if it isn’t they can at least speed up the trigger response time.”

The out basket: It has to do with construction going on at that location, says Don Anders of the Olympic Region signal shop for state highways. No detection system is working for Clifton traffic. “The side road loops have been cut,” he said.  “We will have this approach on fixed time until the new loops are repaired and the signal will serve this approach even if no vehicles are present (until then).  This is a temporary condition, but I am not sure how long it will be before the contractor gets the loops installed.”

After eading this on line, on the Road Warrior blog at, Joe Myall asked if the same thing explains the odd behavior of the Sidney and Bay Street light in downtown Port Orchard. Good guess. The detector cables are cut there, too, while a whole new signal system is put in, and the lights are on timers until they are redone.

Readers react to drive-through lines

The in basket: A short while ago, I asked why drive-through windows at restaurants and banks remain so popular even though the gas being burned while waiting was up to $4.40 a gallon (It’s come down since, happily).

As before when I asked about the attraction of drive-throughs, the responses were varied and lively.

The out basket: Henry Howe, S.J. Duke and a blogger who goes by Cean said they don’t have to worry about idling in those lines any more. They drive Priuses. 

 “Whenever my speed slows down or stops, the battery system kicks in and gas consumption stops,” said Henry. “Since my Prius gets 45-50 MPG, I don’t worry about gasoline consumption.

“No worries!” said S.J., saying he’s been a proud owner since 2003. “Another good reason to own a hybrid.

“Even if I didn’t have a Prius,” said Cean, “I would continue to use drive-ups sometimes, as I often have a passenger with me who is handicapped. It can take a lot longer for both of us to go into a business.”

That also was part of the rationale from Melissa Barnum of Port Orchard. She also said she’s a foster parent with children of her own, who often have friends with them. “Typically six to eight people are in my Suburban which seats eight,” she said. “The occasional dollar or two that I might save (by walking into the business) is not worth the extra 15-20 minutes it takes getting everyone in and out of car seats and then back in again.”

That many boisterous youngsters will disrupt a coffee shop (not much room), a bank (where quiet is valued) or a pharmacy (where sick people can be vulnerable to cold germs), she added.

And it isn’t a dollar or two anyway, by Bruce Bargmeyer’s calculation. 

“A quick check of the internet gives a ballpark figure of about 0.5 gallons per hour of fuel consumption at idle,” he said. “Using this number, idling costs 3 cents per minute when gas is $3.60 per gallon, and 4 cents per minute when gas is $4.80 per gallon. Idling a car for five minutes costs the driver between 15 and 20 cents.” 

He also says it cost extra gas to restart one’s car, the equivalent of two minutes of driving, by his Internet search.

My own search says an hour of idling can use a gallon of gas, twice what Bruce contends. And restarting of a car consumes about 10 seconds worth of idling in modern cars that are warmed up, says the site I visited. But Bruce’s point is made: “Are these budget busting numbers?” he asked. “Apparently not.”

T.J. in Port Orchard says the Starbucks on Lund Avenue in South Kitsap, which I cited as an example of a long line at the drive-through, has an added incentive to not park one’s car. “It is difficult to back out of a parking place in that small lot at most times, but when there’s a line for the drive-through, it’s nearly impossible,” he said.

Ann Martin of Silverdale took a dim view of the practice. “We idle away gas at drive-up windows for the same reason that we use plastic bags at the grocery store, the same reason we drive around in gas-guzzling uber-cars, because we are a fat, lazy, narcissistic nation that deserves exactly what we get. It’s the American way.”

“How’s that for a lively discussion?” she concluded.

Don’t forget pollution from idling engines, said Merwin Lindley of Central Kitsap. It’s not just wasted gas. 

It all reminded Merwin of the time in the 1970s when gas wasn’t just costly, it was scarce and had to be rationed. He said then it was crucial not to idle in the long lines at service stations because you might run out. So he often pushed his car in those lines when on a flat surface.

“I told my wife we should do that and she didn’t agree with me,” he said. 

Doing the speed limit in the left lane

The in basket: Cindy Blattman wrote to say, “A couple of weeks ago, I was on the freeway going from Silverdale to Poulsbo. There was a sheriffs car behind me.  

“I was going the speed limit exactly, which is 60 mph and he was very, very close to my bumper. He rode my bumper all the way to Poulsbo,” she said.  

“We were both in the left-hand lane, and there wasn’t any traffic on the right hand lane.  He could have very easily gone over to that lane and then went in front of me.  I felt as though I was being intimidated, even though I was doing NOTHING illegal!  

“He finally broke off and went into Poulsbo,” she said. “I was planning on calling the sheriffs office and complaining…UNTIL I talked with my husband who said I was wrong!  He said I should have moved over to the right lane.  Why?  I was going the speed limit!  

“Since that happy conversation with my husband, I have asked several people what they thought and no one seems to know what the ‘rule’ is,” she said.

The out basket: Cindy’s husband is correct. Cindy was doing something illegal.

State law requires a person to drive in the right lane on a highway with two or more lanes going in the driver’s direction, except: 

“(a) when overtaking and

passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction, (b) when

traveling at a speed greater than the traffic flow, (c) when moving

left to allow traffic to merge, or (d) when preparing for a left turn

at an intersection, exit, or into a private road or driveway when

such left turn is legally permitted.” 

The deputy’s behavior as described by Cindy is a bit odd. It’s what I might do, along with flashing my headlights, to get a left lane driver to move over when a vehicle in the right lane keeps me from using it to pass. But the deputy had emergency lights available.

I’m guessing he or she, for whatever reason,  didn’t have time to make a traffic stop to warn or cite Cindy and didn’t want to leave her on the shoulder, confused, by using the emergency lights to move her over and then continuing on without stopping behind her. 

North Shore, Belfair-Tahuya closures getting same priority

The in basket: John Whalen of the North Shore Road in Mason County writes, “Why is priority given to the repair of the North Shore Road and not the repair of the Tahuya River Bridge on the Belfair-Tahuya Road? I am certain a traffic study would show that the Tahuya River Bridge gets a substantially higher number of vehicles on it than the North Shore Road (at the closure site). I feel that priority should be given to the Tahuya River Bridge and all the residents of Collins Lake, Haven Lake, Wooten Lake, Tee Lake, Maggie Lake, Dewatto and Tahuya.

The out basket: Bill Tabor, the Mason County engineer, who will be retiring at the end of the month, says the two projects are being given equal priority.

The recent closure of North Shore Road wasn’t done so that it can be worked on first, though permit issues may bring about that result, Bill said.

The North Shore repair, which will require a tall wall to retain the roadway, is awaiting approval from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, he said.

No work is going on now to repair the Dec. 3 washout. The closure, he said, was prompted by widespread disregard for the county’s efforts to get drivers to voluntarily use other roads to keep more of North Shore Road from dropping away.

“When we first closed it, it was a one-lane road and we hoped to maintain that. Then we started getting logging trucks through there, so we restricted that and no one paid any attention. It made the situation worse to the point I felt there were some real safety concerns, not only to traffic but to people living below.” 

Even closing it wasn’t fully effective. They used a chain across the road in addition to the upright barricades with ‘Road Closed” on them, Bill said. Two days later, someone cut the cable and moved the barricades, presumably to get through, he said.

He called it “a total disregard for the safety issues involved in that site.” 

They hope to get the FEMA approval (so federal money can be used) in time to get the repair made before the winter rains, he said.

It will take six weeks or so to bid the project and select a contractor once the approval is obtained, he said. Design of the wall by a consultant is 90 percent complete.

Meanwhile, the county has a different set of problems at the temporary bridge across Tahuya River. That’s the subject of the next Road Warrior.


Belfair-Tahuya washout repair hampered

The in basket: In the last Road Warrior, Mason County Engineer Bill Tabor said the closure of North Shore Road doesn’t mean it has a higher priority for repair of storm damage than Belfair-Tahuya Road, which remains reduced to one lane across a temporary bridge.

The North Shore damage may be repaired first, he said, but only because it’s a simpler project and it doesn’t face a regulatory challenge the Tahuya River site does.

The out basket: I hadn’t driven out and looked at the site before writing in July about the county sheriff’s insistence that drivers treat the temporary alignment as a three-way stop. That prohibits groups of cars from crossing in a caravan if anyone is waiting at a stop sign on the other side of the bridge.

This month, I watched it and I imagine many users of the road are upset.

It takes about 20 seconds for a car to cross. Going one at a time, alternating between the two ends of the bridge, as the three-way rule requires, means the first car in line at one end departs every 40 seconds if anyone is waiting on the other side.

It wasn’t creating a problem when I got there about 2:30 p.m. one recent weekday. All the traffic was coming from the east. But by 3 p.m., six cars arrived on the west side about the same time. The every-40-second pattern kicked in and by the time I left, there were 27 cars waiting on the east side. There no longer was anyone waiting on the west side, so maybe those 27 cars cleared quickly. But if more traffic from the west arrived, I calculate it would have taken 18 minutes for those 27 cars to cross one at a time.

Many would like to see a temporary traffic light installed there. Bill Tabor says buying one would cost the county $150,000 and in the face of about $10 million in damage from the Dec. 3 inundation, the county can’t afford that. The Federal Emergency Management Agency on Thursday said it wouldn’t pay for it 

The county is looking for a signal to lease or borrow, he said, but the agencies that own them have them in use repairing their own post-flood damage, he said. 

Meanwhile, efforts to replace the washed-out bridge are mired in a dispute between the county and the state Department of Fisheries, he said. The state agency wants the county to replace the destroyed 88-foot-long bridge with a 141-foot bridge, rather than the 116-foot bridge the county proposes, adding $400,000 to the cost, he said. The state 

also wants a $10,000-$12,000 hydraulics study that Bill considers a waste of money. 

The county appealed Fisheries’ rejection of the county’s plans and a hearing was held Aug. 18. A decision must be rendered by Sept. 16. Even if the county prevails, the same six-week process to bid and award a contract as exists with the North Shore Road repair applies to the bridge replacement. 

“This one won’t be done by winter,” he said.

Sand Hill washout causes concern

The in basket: We’ve devoted this week’s Road Warrior columns to the problems Mason County has had in repairing damage wrought by the historic Dec. 3 storm, focusing on washouts on North Shore Road and Belfair-Tahuya Road. 

Robert Murray of Allyn says there is a third that needs more traffic control than it has gotten. 

“The site is the washout of half of Sand Hill Road near the women’s penal institution near Mission Creek,” he said. “Drivers going both directions are warned by signs to be cautious traversing the remaining single lane,” he said. “Particularly hazardous is driving south because the driver may not see northbound traffic in or approaching the damaged area.”

He suggested the addition of a stop sign for at least the southbound traffic. “I don’t need it, because the possibility of a head-on tells me to stop first. (But) it’s a site waiting for an bad accident to happen.”

The out basket: Mason County Engineer Bill Tabor doesn’t agree with Robert, and, frankly, neither do I, based on a weekday mid-afternoon visit to the site.

Firstly, there was almost no traffic. In the five minutes I was there, only one car went by. And the one-lane stretch is short enough a driver can see across it. It reminded me of a national forest road where two cars might meet and have to work out who gets to go first, but wouldn’t collide if both used good judgement.

Joan Graham says a similar situation exists on North Shore Road slightly west of where it is barricaded (the barricades kept me from visiting that one) where the road has been reduced to a single lane with limited sight distance. She said, “I am not aware of any accidents at this area, and locals and tourists alike seem to have amicably worked out who goes first and how many go at one time.”

Revisiting the merge west of Bremerton

The in basket: One of the most common complaints to the Road Warrior, and a frequent subject of this column, is the etiquette of merging on southbound Highway  3 as it approaches Highway 304 west of Bremerton. 

My wife, the Judybaker, who is caught in that backup much more often than I am, disagrees with me on the proper thing to do. She agrees with all the people who think merging as early as possible into the left lane is the proper approach. I advocate filling the two lanes equally and merging only at the last moment, the so-called “zipper” tactic that I’m told is  advocated on highway signs in Europe. 

I’ve been unable to explain why, but it seems to me the traffic moves faster when enough drivers stay in the right lane that it fills up equal with the inside lane. 

The out basket: An author named Tom Vanderbilt has written a book called “Traffic” that provides a a possible explanation of what I have observed.

Vanderbilt’s book has gotten quite a bit of publicity this summer. I’ve seen excerpts from it in the Los Angeles Times Sunday opinion section and in The Week magazine, and classmate Mary Thomas Rathke told me at a class reunion that she’d heard him interviewed on National Public Radio.

Among the interesting excerpts was the fact that even under the best conditions, only 5.5 percent of a highway is occupied by vehicles at any one time. And that percentage diminishes with increased vehicle speeds, as drivers leave more room between themselves and the car ahead. So higher speeds don’t make a highway more efficient.

Vanderbilt offers information that may comfort embattled Port Orchard officials who are having to defend their plans for roundabouts on Tremont Street. 

Roundabouts reduce traffic delays by 65 percent, he writes, eliminating time spent at red lights at traditional intersections and waiting for a long line of traffic to move when the light turns green. And they are safer, reducing the possible 56 possible collision points at a signalized intersection to only 16, he said.

Here is what he says about the conflict between Early Mergers and Late Mergers.

Early Merge produces fewer “traffic conflicts” and rear end collisions, but it “suffers from a critical flaw,” he wrote. “One simulation showed that it actually takes vehicles longer to travel through the narrowed zone, perhaps because faster-moving cars were being put behind slower-moving cars sooner than they might naturally have gotten there.

“The Late Merge,” he writes, “directs (drivers) to ‘Use Both Lanes to Merge Point.’ The beauty of the Late Merge system is that it removes the anxiety drivers may feel in choosing lanes, as well as their annoyance with a passing ‘cheating’ driver. It also compresses what may normally be thousands of feet of potential merging maneuvers to a single point. As a result, it produced a 15 percent improvement in traffic flow over conventional merges when traffic is heavy enough to create congestion,” Vanderbilt wrote.

I was predisposed to accept Vanderbilt’s analysis, of course. The Judybaker wasn’t convinced and still thinks merging early is better.

My hope is that hearing of Vanderbilt’s analysis will encourage more Late Mergers to test the theory at the 3-304 backup by using the right lane.

Unsolicited phone books aren’t litter


The in basket: Last winter, Chuck Hower of Harper was seeking help from the Kitsap County commissioners to rid the local roads of the unsolicited telephone directories that often are left on the ground near mailboxes and otherwise in public view, sometimes for weeks. He CC’d the e-mails to me.

“What is the difference,” he asked, “between someone throwing a beer can or other litter out of a car window to litter the roadway and the intentional littering that takes place with these directories? Why is such an obvious violation of the law allowed to continue, when it is easy to track down the culprit?”

The out basket: I asked Megan Warfield of the Department of Ecology about that agency’s position on this.

“The phone book question comes up quite often,” she said. “We have never gotten an official opinion from the Attorney General’s office on this – but technically, phone books do not meet the definition of litter.

She cited a couple of state laws that define litter.

“The operative words are ‘waste material’ and ‘solid waste,’ or more simply, garbage,” she said. 

“Usable items placed in the public right of way pose an interesting question. If the item is fully functional, is it waste material or solid waste?  Probably not in the way we commonly think of ‘garbage,’ but the fact that it was discarded is an issue.  Certainly, if the item is outside long enough and becomes weathered or decayed, it becomes ‘waste.’

“That phone book left on your sidewalk that you don’t really want isn’t technically litter because it can be used as it was intended – it’s not ‘waste.’ 

“The issue is further complicated by the fact that phone books are part of phone service that communications companies are required to provide. By (utilities)  regulations, your telephone service provider is required to provide you a directory each time it is updated. 

“As annoying as I find multiple phone books myself, I think it’s a stretch to say that because they are unrequested or unwanted makes them litter.  

“Limiting phone book distribution may been seen as a barrier to competition. I also think it would be logistically prohibitive to ask the phone company to distribute phone books only to those who request them.  They probably would get as many complaints from people who didn’t get them as from people getting them and not wanting them.  So I do not think ‘litter’ is the right way to get at the problem,” she concluded.

Kitsap Sheriff Steve Boyer says he got a good response from two directory companies he called last winter asking them to clean up the unused books, but he doesn’t know that the problem won’t recur with the next issues of the books.

He also observed that it mostly seemed to be a problem in the Manchester area of South Kitsap (Chuck lives in Harper). He also said the prosecutor’s office tells him the companies can’t be prosecuted for littering, presumably due to the factors Megan discussed.

She also suggested the offended residents complain to the publishing companies if they can find the contact information.

“I know enforcement agencies are not going to pursue this as a littering violation,” she concluded. “I know it’s a waste of paper, but at a minimum, I encourage people to recycle the unwanted directories. Information on recycling is available by calling 1-800-RECYCLE.”



Traffic signal requested at Lund and Hoover

The in basket: Jim Herron of Hoover Avenue in South Kitsap, on behalf of his wife, Shirley, wonders if a traffic signal might be installed and made active for part of the day on Lund Avenue at Hoover Avenue. 

“In the afternoon, when school buses join the regular traffic

waiting at the Hoover/Lund intersection for a break in the Lund

traffic,” he said, “cars and buses line up nearly to the Lincoln Avenue

intersection near the South Kitsap School District administration

offices.  Most times of the day, there are seldom more than three

or four vehicles waiting, but at that one time of day, it really

backs up.”

They’d like to see a traffic signal operating “during that particularly busy hour.

“We don’t really need it the rest of the time, although, of course,

it would be nice for those entering Lund from Hoover, but that

would inconvenience the much heavier regular traffic on Lund,” he noted.

The out basket: Help is on the way, but not for a few years and making use of it will require a circuitous route for buses and Hoover traffic.

Doug Bear of Kitsap County Public Works says the county has evaluated a signal at Lund and Harris Road two streets to the east of Hoover, and expects to include it in next year’s six-year road plan.  

“Once on the plan, it will probably be five or six years before the signal is installed,” he said. “That would provide signalized access to Lund for buses and would alleviate the situation your reader describes at Lund and Harris. To use such a new light, the traffic Jim mentions would have to bypass Hoover and reach Harris via McKinley.

No light is planned at Harris and Lund, intermittent or otherwise.

Free foot ferry Fridays resume this week

The in basket: There was some consternation on the Port Orchard-Bremerton foot ferry Friday night among people on their way to or from the drum concert that began a four-week series of concerts at the Bremerton Waterfront Park, the one with the gushing, submarine-shaped fountains. 

A lot of people expected the ferry trip to be free, as it was the night before because of a concert in Port Orchard and every Friday night for a few weeks before because of the Concerts on the Boardwalk in Bremerton.

The ferry crew wasn’t sure what the rules were last Friday night, but after conferring with one of three crew members who apparently had the most authority, they said the usual $1.50 one-way fare was in effect. 

I asked Kitsap Transit what to expect for the remaining Friday nights of the series, sponsored by the Bremerton Parks Department.

The out basket: Bremerton Parks had just launched its concert series, the first year for it, and he was unaware of it, said John Clauson of Kitsap Transit. And Cynthia Engelgau of the parks staff didn’t know the free ferry service was available for concerts. 

Both now are aware of the other and the Friday night service will be free for the next three Friday evenings, John says. 

Some of those griping on last Friday’s runs suggested the schedule for when it’s free and when it’s not on that ferry run was mystifying. So here’s the breakdown, provided by John. 

Passage on the boats is free on Thursdays from 3:30 p.m. to the end of service, serving the Port Orchard concerts and the Bremerton Farmer’s Market at Evergreen Park, through Oct. 9.

Friday evening service will be free the next three weeks. It’s free from 5:15 p.m. on.

Saturday and Sunday service is free all day from May 10 to Oct. 12, in recognition of the Port Orchard Farmer’s Market and the various festivals on weekends. It’s also free the four days of the Kitsap County Fair, Aug. 20-24 and all three days of Bremerton’s Blackberry Festival, Aug. 30 and 31 and Sept. 1.

Cindy said none of the people at Friday’s drum concert mentioned the ferry fare confusion to her, but there was difficulty getting disabled people from the Access bus at the end of Pacific Avenue to the concert site. They’ll have more people to help with that the next three Fridays, she said.